By Henry Kyambalesa:
I wish to comment on statements made in recent months by Ronnie Shikapwasha, George Kunda and Rupiah Banda in support of the Declaration of Zambia as a Christian Nation by Dr. Frederick Chiluba at State House on 29th December 1991, which was later incorporated into the Preamble of the 1996 Republican constitution.
It is important for national leaders to guard against the imposition of any particular religion on the entire society. The Republican constitution particularly should be a neutral document that does not discriminate against atheists or pagans, or those who believe in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, or Jainism.
In the long run, the Declaration is likely to make non-Christian citizens to feel that they are second-class citizens. And, as Venkatesh Seshamani has argued, a feeling of religious superiority is likely to develop among Christians by virtue of their religion having been accorded constitutional status, which may lead to bigotry that would prompt them to view non-Christians as lost souls.
Clearly, the Declaration was made without consideration of the dangers of dragging religion into politics. Religion is deadly if it is not handled with utmost caution. The precarious problem currently facing Algeria, Nigeria, the Sudan, Afghanistan, and a host of other countries around the world which are beleaguered by religious conflicts should serve as a clear warning to each and every peace-loving Zambian to refrain from creating a similar situation that will dog our beloved country in perpetuity.
We should not be blinded by our having experienced no serious religious conflicts so far, but as our country’s population and the membership of each religious denomination swells, we would be shortsighted not to anticipate and make an effort to forestall the incidence such conflicts. We need to act proactively. To wait until the consequences of our failure to reason are upon us is to leave serious problems for future generations to grapple with. And such failure will eventually prove to us that experience, in relation to this issue, teaches fools, since we have thus far not been able to see beyond our noses.
What Zambia needs is a secular state that genuinely recognizes and safeguards each and every individual’s freedom of worship and the freedom to choose one’s religion. At the same time, we should actively DISCOURAGE the following in a deliberate effort to forestall the potential for disruption of public order and socio-economic activities by cliques of fanatics from any of our country’s religious denominations:
(a) The use of public funds by a local or national government to set up a church or mosque, and/or to provide any form of support to any given religious group, institution or activity;
(b) Official participation by government leaders in the affairs of any given religious group or institution, or official participation by any given religious leader or group in political or governmental affairs;
(c) The use of a religious platform by any individual or group of individuals to form a political party;
(d) The use of a religious platform by any individual to seek a leadership position in any of the three branches of government—that is, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive;
(e) Inclusion of denominational religious subjects in the curricula of schools funded by the government; and
(f) Religious sermons which are contemptuous to, or are designed to slight, other religious groupings or denominations.
In countries where government leaders have not provided for these kinds of safeguards mainly due to lack of foresight, violent clashes among religious groups in their quest to dominate the political sphere, and to impose their religious laws on the citizenry, have become exceedingly difficult to contain. As it is often said, prevention is better than cure! Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammad summed up the perilous nature of religious conflicts in his address to the World Evangelical Fellowship in May 2001 thus: “Once started, religious … [conflicts have] a tendency to go on and on, [and] to become permanent feuds.”
In a country that is already inundated by violence and threats of violence mainly by cadres from the MMD on a regular basis, to add the potential for religious conflicts would be akin to spraying gasoline over burning charcoal.
In all, I am confident that religious institutions in Zambia will continue to provide the moral and spiritual direction to our nation in an era that has been high-jacked by unprecedented violence and moral decay, and to articulate the people’s demands on the government for a more democratic, more peaceful, more prosperous, and more egalitarian society.